080: Chang the Chinese giant, died Bournemouth 1893
There is no doubt that people all over the world are interested in other people who are physically different to them. Short people (dwarves or midgets), tall people (giants), very thin and extremely fat people, and so on have been exhibited at fairs, exhibitions, and sideshows, appear in films, photographs, and on postcards. Jeffrey Hudson was Britain’s smallest man and found work at the royal court and in the 1630s was included in Van Dyck’s portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria. In 2001 a biography Lord Minimus was published in London.
In September 1865 Chang Woo Gow arrived in London from Shanghai, and worked as Chang the Chinese Giant into 1869, moving on to the USA and then Australia. At 7ft 8in tall, and accompanied by a dwarf, he drew crowds and met royalty as well as making stage appearances. The Liverpool Mercury of 21 March 1866 said he was 19 (and his wife was 18 – the dwarf was 2ft 6in). He was in Dublin in November 1866, Paris in 1867, Sheffield in 1869 but on 6 June 1869 the entertainment weekly Era carried an advert for engagements.
He moved to Australia where he married the Liverpool-born Catherine Santley. They had two sons (of standard heights) and all four were in the Isle of Wight then settled in Bournemouth, a health resort on England’s south coast. Their house at 6 Southcote Road had extra high doors: and welcomed visitors for it became a tea shop and retailed Chinese items. They named it Moyuen, after the place in China where Chang had been born. Catherine Wong Gow died in Bournemouth in early summer 1893, aged 44. Her husband died on 5 November 1893 aged 52. Edwin and Ernest, aged 12 and 14 attended the funeral at the nonconformist cemetery – the coffin was 8ft 6in – where their parents were reunited. The boys are listed in the 1901 census.
“Something great, stupendous, wonderful and not inviting” (Cheshire Observer 9 September 1865, p 3), Chang was later seen as “well-proportioned” and bore himself “with the greatest courtesy and dignity” (Hampshire Advertiser 8 November 1893). It was recalled that the giant used to light his cigar from the gas flame in street lights – and had the ability to speak several languages.
His image can be found in collections of circus ephemera such as that (above) in the San Antonio, Texas, public library. The Bournemouth house is now a hotel and there are images on www.ashleighhotel.co.uk. One photo is on thehumanmarvels.com; two on www.chinesemuseum.com.au which is strong on his Australian activities and states that son Edwin was born in Shanghai and Ernest in Paris: the boys and their mother were in Manchester at the time of the 1881 census. There is a fine photograph on flikr.com and a London poster at the British Library.
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